Sometimes You Just Gotta Say Eff It

by Janelle Harris

After I was done with the devil-may-care use of my credit in college and those few, frivolously spendthrift years immediately thereafter, I decided to get serious about my money. Not that I had much of it to get serious about. You just don’t live the life of Riley on a fledgling editor/freelance writer’s income, whenever it does come in, especially not in the first few years out of school. I was doing the darn thing if I could pay that hoe Sallie Mae and my car note out of the same paycheck. God bless my mama and nana for their undying love and their generous pockets when their baby girl was in her trying-to-find-myself phase.

On my mission to right the wrongs I had done to my FICO score, which hovered maybe around a 10 or 14 on a good day, and stretch my precious dollars in all of the directions they needed to go, I scrimped and sacrificed to pay off outstanding balances when I could. And when I couldn’t, I made mostly heartfelt promises to hold the wolf packs of bill collectors at bay. It was an interesting ground study in economics for this former English major: Spending money I didn’t have took two, maybe three years. Digging myself out of the hole took freakin’ forever.

During that time, some of my closest friends were traveling, going on exotic trips to places I could only Google and turn into screensavers; volunteering; and studying abroad and earning more degrees. One bought a house, and pretty much all of them were shopping and getting their hair done and pedicures did and nails polished. Meanwhile, my uniform was sweatpants and a ponytail because I was going too hard financially to justify shelling out cash on primping and beautifying, even though I desperately wanted to be up in the salon like everybody else (and probably needed it, too). That money, I reasoned, would be better spent paying down a balance on something than lining the wallet of a manicurist.

So life trudged on like that in a period I affectionately dubbed “Personal Revolution.” I not only abstained from shopping and professional coiffing — which means I was the reigning queen of the box perm home kit at that time — but I also didn’t dine out, buy music, or give too many gifts. I was on total financial lockdown. But even in my self-deprivation, I didn’t really feel like I was getting anywhere. It’s like when you’re on a diet and cut out carbs, processed sugars, and sodium, and you look up and realize you’re noshing on bean curd and grass blades and you’ve only lost two pounds. A person can only go on like that for but so long before discouragement starts to make the whole effort seem futile. I was doing all of that working, but I wasn’t living. And I wanted to live.

I changed my stringent approach, though, when I lost three members of my close-knit family in boom-boom-boom succession. I watched my auntie, who had been an aerobic-training, marathon-running, health-food-eating dynamo, dwindle away from stomach cancer. She went from kicking off the Electric Slide at every family function to being spoon fed rice pudding because she was too weak to keep anything down. Then my grandmother passed. She was everything to us — me, my daughter, our whole family — and the sting of her absence is still fresh today. Not long after, my uncle died in his sleep of a brain aneurysm and laid in wait for my mother to discover her only brother had gone on to be with God when he was supposed to get up in the morning and finish the laundry, pick up the paper, and rush to and fro like everybody else.

I also lost two friends from school within a year. Eerily enough, I attended the funeral for one with the other, only to get the notice about the second’s passing a few months later. One shocked us by having a stroke in his early 20s; the other slipped away in the middle of the night while she was asleep. It’s one thing to watch the randomness of inevitability pluck off your elders, but a whole other kind of in-your-face reality when people your own age start passing on. Those deaths put an entirely different spin on the cliché that life really is short. You won’t catch me windsailing off the top of the Chrysler Building — I don’t want today to be my last if it doesn’t have to be, now — but I’ve come to the conclusion that life also isn’t going to wait patiently while I build up a 401(k) and amass a certain savings goal, especially, especially if is money is tight.

That doesn’t mean I’m not saving. I don’t want to be broke all my life, existing from paycheck to paycheck, biding my time until I can pounce on the 15th and the 30th of every month in pathetic anticipation of payday. But I also don’t think myself a bad person by saying eff it every once in a while to take a trip or try a restaurant I’ve really been wanting to experience, even if it’s not in the budget. I don’t give myself carte blanche to act a fool and dig myself deep into the same ridiculous indebtedness I was in as a college kid, but I also don’t bully myself too badly if, when I need to get away for a week or weekend and the money isn’t there, I do some juggling to make it happen. Actually, I find something gloriously freeing in being occasionally irresponsible.

Once, when I was just about this close to a black out from the stresses of life and single motherhood, my best friend and I rented a car and road tripped, Thelmaisha and Louisetta-style, through the Carolinas down to Atlanta. I had about $200 in the bank at the time, but when I came home I didn’t have a single regret. Both the bills and the money replenished themselves, but the memories are priceless. If the good Lord called me from the earth today like he did so many of the people whose vibrancy I loved and admired, I want to have had a chance to do and see and smell and touch and taste and laugh and play and travel and experience as much as possible. I want all of the financial accouterments of success, too, of course. But I also want the contentment of knowing that, when death knocks on my door, I lived. Not through other people’s stories, statuses, and Instagram accounts, but for myself.

  • K

    I love this article! I too have felt this way – like my life was on hold for the future, so caught up in what I was “supposed to do”. As you have stated, I haven’t stopped planning for the future – doing what I need to do to move forward, but I have acknowledged the need to live in the now. Life truly is too precious of a gift to not live by our own terms. Thanks for this article!

  • Tami

    This article describes how I live my life. I am 50 yrs old & saving for retirement & still doing things I haven’t accomplished yet. I throw a little money in my savings biweekly, have monies taken out for my 401K & pay my bills. Yet, sometimes I want to go to that special concert coming to town or take a trip. That’s when I decide to figure out how I am going to do it. So, I pay a bill late, every now & then or don’t put anything in savings for 1 week & go ahead to the performance. My motto is everything in moderation. That saying is true, you only live once. I handle my responsibilties & should be able to have some fun now & then. The only thing I believe we take with us when we depart this earth is our memories.

  • Amberly

    Great article, Janelle. As a fellow freelance writer with major student loan debt, I can understand your sentiments exactly! Keep your head up! Stay positive and soon all of those bills will be paid with no worries, you’ll have enough money to keep your bank account balanced and be able to hop in the car and take random road trips more often. Continue laying bricks and eventually you’ll have a wall…

  • OSHH

    Really enjoyed this piece and I want to LIVE while I am here also instead of just working just to scrimp by and pay bills.

  • Angie

    For the past two years, my life has taken an unexpected turn (dealt with a separation). I wasn’t able to travel, but if I die tonight I won’t have any regrets. Everything should be taken into moderation. Meanwhile, some situations occur that you just can’t say eff to. I have had and I have lost, my time will come again on my own accord.

  • CurlySue

    I can definitely relate to this article. I will forever regret being irresponsible with credit cards in college. Paying that debt off took years. I’m free and clear now, but damn, living ain’t free. I’ll be moving to NYC for a promotion in a month. And while I couldn’t be more excited, I’m also nervous and resentful of that damn state and city income tax lol. Like, does the government really need 35% of my income?! I’m only middle class! Anywho, at 26, I’m grateful to be debt free, but at the same time, I would have a lot more in savings if I hadn’t had to pay off that 4k in credit cards.

    On an unrelated note, that chick in the photo has some gnarly sideburns.

  • Kristal

    I’m only just getting out of this myself so I know how depressing it is when you feel everyone else is traveling, shopping etc and you’re just trying to survive. My time is coming though and my future is blinding it’s so bright! I also know I can make it through the tough times that may come ahead, some people don’t know how to. I fully agree with enjoying the pleasures that you can to make happy memories, we need them to replenish our spirit.

  • Apple

    My life is on hold for years now . If I die soon I won’t care if I didn’t live but I continue to live with the conscious of knowing I didn’t really live , thats a fate worst than premature death.

  • Brei

    Her hair looks good (the model in the pic).

  • Laika

    Yes!! I’m a journalism/English student now and I haven’t had more than $100 at a time in my account this entire summer (I’m also a queen of the box perm home kit, free downloaded music, and a limited social life lol). There have been times where I literally go to sleep anxious and worried about what I’m gonna eat, what I can wear, what to do with my hair, etc. But you’re right. Sometimes, you just have to let life happen and everything seems to work out in the end. =)

  • RivaFlowz

    This article gave me life! I can totally relate. I’m a freelance writer/teacher and it comes in when it comes in. Half of the time it goes to “that hoe” Sallie Mae. I can’t wait for the day where I’m not living paycheck to paycheck, but I’m going to ENJOY my life when I can now. Immensely.


  • shadow

    Thank you for this awesome article!! I needed this reminder to live a little and not feel guilty in doing so!

  • 726 is My Birthday

    “My life is on hold for years now.” – Yea…

  • African Mami

    But even in my self-deprivation, I didn’t really feel like I was getting anywhere

    This line was THE whole article for me! Very succinctly and well-written article! A*

  • GlowBelle

    Are you me? This article hit home. I’m a freelance writer/blogger myself and it’s rough skrimping and saving and then not having money to do things you want to do because you’re always worried about the ‘what’s next’ bit. But I keep on going. I try not focus on what other people are doing and it’s tough because you see everyone getting to travel, shop, and what not, but in the end I think being broke and being at a standstill in life makes you appreciate things more. I focus on the little things now…even painting my fingernails perks me up. I’m learning to just let all the worry go and enjoy the small moments I have now, in order to save up for the bigger ones.

  • Nina Renee

    Excellent article. I’m a freelance writer too, and it’s hard out here. But as important as they are in practicality, a high FICO score and money in the bank do not a fulfilling life make. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Elle

    The real question for me is “HOW do you begin to ‘live’?” (from a 19 year old feeling like her life is already on hold from trying to be responsible so she doesn’t end up in the street or dependent on others)

  • Black Excellence

    I’ve been trying to devise a plan myself (same situation). I’ve got an idea but it’s far fetched

  • Rose Kahendi

    Great piece! :)

  • bossladi

    AMEN! Very Encouraging.

  • Wise Edits

    Rule number one: Stay away from credit cards.

  • lauryn

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  • Latifah

    Wonderful article!

  • Pingback: Part 1: Screw up your credit, screw up your whole life. And your children’s lives. | Wealthy Single Mommy

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